Senate Parliamentarian deals "crushing blow" to Democrats, Biden

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Perhaps there is some sanity left on Capitol Hill after all. Last night, the Senate Parliamentarian finished reviewing one of the more controversial portions of the Democrats’ massive $3.5 trillion spending spree and delivered some “crushing” news to Joe Biden and his party. The plan to try to offer amnesty for illegal aliens and potentially a path to citizenship can not be included in the bill. Since there is virtually no support among Republicans for this scheme, if the Democrats aren’t allowed to try to force it through by abusing the reconciliation process, the proposal is now essentially dead in the water. The reason for the refusal was fairly basic. Reconciliation is only supposed to be used to pass spending measures, not sweeping policy changes with only “incidental” spending involved with them. (Associated Press)

Democrats can’t use their $3.5 trillion package bolstering social and climate programs for their plan to give millions of immigrants a chance to become citizens, the Senate’s parliamentarian said, a crushing blow to what was the party’s clearest pathway in years to attaining that long-sought goal.

The decision by Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate’s nonpartisan interpreter of its often enigmatic rules, is a damaging and disheartening setback for President Joe Biden, congressional Democrats and their allies in the pro-immigration and progressive communities. Though they said they’d offer her fresh alternatives, MacDonough’s stance badly wounds their hopes of unilaterally enacting — over Republican opposition — changes letting several categories of immigrants gain permanent residence and possibly citizenship.

Some of us have been shouting about this from the rooftops since details of this massive spending boondoggle began to leak out. The most common (and appropriate) use of the reconciliation process is typically seen at the end of efforts to pass an annual omnibus spending measure to keep the government in operation and cover the most basic functions. When the two sides both agree that certain things need to be funded but can’t agree on the final amount to be appropriated, the two chambers send representatives to do some horse-trading and find a number that falls somewhere in the middle.

That’s not the case with what the Democrats are trying to do here. They want a major overhaul to the country’s immigration laws and they know the votes don’t exist to pass it through the Senate. So they attempted to justify putting it in the omnibus spending bill by claiming that money would need to be appropriated to print new application forms or something. (That wasn’t the specific spending item, but you get the picture.) Clearly, the Senate Parliamentarian wasn’t buying it, and she said that it “is by any standard a broad, new immigration policy.”

Now that this precedent has been set, perhaps we can convince Elizabeth MacDonough (the current Senate Parliamentarian) to turn her attention to the rest of the Democratic wish list that’s been jammed into the package. Major changes involving climate change, including carbon capture and emissions regulations, are also being sandwiched into the bill. The same rules should apply. Those are significant public policy changes that merit debate on their own merits. Any spending involved in those changes is similarly “incidental.” That bill, as grossly huge as it will still wind up being, should be restricted to typical appropriations passed by Congress annually, even if the figures are vastly larger than what we normally see.

This was a welcome ruling, all things considered. I don’t see any path forward for the Democrats’ amnesty plans at this point and the same should apply to the rest of the wish list items. If Democrats want to push through those agenda items, they need to make a better case for them and convince their colleagues or win more elections and secure a supermajority in the upper chamber. Of course, that option may be easier said than done, judging by their current approval ratings and the general mood of the nation.